Everything You Need to Know About How Probation Works
On average, roughly 4.4 million people each year are on probation. Also called parole or a suspended sentence, this legal punishment comes with many rules. If you want to avoid more jail time, fines, or other problems, you need to be aware of how probation works.
Probation Isn’t a “Get Out of Jail Free” Card
In many situations where a person is a first-time offender, their Morristown criminal defense lawyer may be able to argue for a sentence that uses probation instead of jail. However, even though probation might not be as restrictive as jail, it is still important to take it seriously. Whether you get probation right away or get it after you leave jail, it’s possible for your probation to be revoked. If you violate the terms of probation, you can be placed in jail for the duration of your sentence.
You Have to Pay Extra for Probation
Many people assume probation is a free government service. However, the reality is that it is an added expense that the government does not cover. You have to pay the cost of probationary supervision which can be somewhere from $10 to $600 per month. Willfully disregarding your fees may lead to imprisonment. Due to the way the law is worded, you cannot be placed in jail for not having money to pay your fines. However, if you have money but choose to spend it on luxuries or frivolous expenses instead of probation fees, you can be jailed.
All Sorts of Activities Can Break Probation
While you’re on probation, your activities are very strictly controlled. Each person has their own individual set of probation requirements, and breaking any of these rules counts as a probation violation. Depending on the circumstances of your crime, you might end up dealing with one or more of these rules of probation:
- Take steps to pay back any parties you harmed due to criminal activity
- Support any children or other dependents and pay child support on time
- Turn in any firearms and do not purchase more
- Do not spend time with those engaging in criminal activities
- Do not drink alcohol or do not drink excessive amounts of alcohol
- Attend a substance use treatment program or other court-ordered therapy
- Only take controlled substances as prescribed by a doctor
You Give Up Your Right to Avoid Warrantless Searches
Being on probation ends up reducing the amount of privacy you have. Agreeing to probation means the probation officer or law enforcement officers can search you at will. This can include both searches of your person and searches of your property. You will need to be prepared for searches at any time. To reduce the risk of a search turning up evidence of probation violations or other crimes, it’s important to pay close attention to the rules of your probation and consult with a probation attorney.
You Usually Cannot Just Sit Around While on Probation
Part of being on probation means you need to be making steps to rehabilitate and avoid a life of crime. The exact rules can vary a little, as the court sets specific requirements for each person. It is common for people to have to try to get a job. If you are not employed, you need proof that you regularly submit job applications. In some cases, people may not need a job, but they might need to perform community service. You can end up having to volunteer a certain number of hours each week.
Probation Doesn’t Always Mean Face-to-face Meetings
Most people picture probation as a situation that involves regularly walking into an office and talking to a parole officer. However, this is no longer the case. Most modern probation involves only a few in-person meetings. Later on, you can usually meet them through a video call or a phone call. This means that probation can end up being more flexible than you might think. However, keep in mind that this is left to the discretion of your probation officer. If you seem untrustworthy or uncooperative, you might have more in-person meetings.
Don’t Plan on Traveling Far During Probation
The general rule of thumb is that you cannot travel outside of the state while on probation. However, keep in mind that probation terms are altered to suit individual situations. Your probation may further restrict your travel or give you more opportunities. If you do not want to end up in jail, it is your responsibility to be aware of and follow travel restrictions. When you do need to travel outside of the boundaries you were given, you will need to ask for permission far in advance.
Penalties for a Probation Violation Can Vary
If you violate probation, you will not necessarily end up going to jail. When you violate probation, you must go before a judge for a probation violation hearing. In some cases, you might be able to defend yourself or explain mitigating circumstances. It is possible to violate parole and still stay on probation. The judge might just make your restrictions more severe or extend the overall length of your probationary sentence. However, the court does have the option of revoking your sentence. In these cases, you can end up in jail for the amount of time on your original sentence. For example, if you committed a misdemeanor that comes with a maximum penalty of one year in jail, then violating probation could lead to you being in jail for one year.
Your Relationship With Your Probation Supervisor Matters
A probation supervisor is not just a person who checks off forms and oversees drug tests. Instead, you should expect to spend quite a bit of time in communication with them. Developing a relationship with your probation officer can be a good thing. When they know you are generally trustworthy and responsible, they are more likely to loosen your restrictions. If you are rude, uncooperative, or dismissive to your probation officer, you could receive stricter rules.
There Are Different Types of Probation
Keep in mind that there are technically two types of probation in the state of New Jersey. Supervised probation is what you probably think of as traditional probation. It has a lot of rules and requires regular check-in with a probationary officer. Unsupervised probation, which is also called non-reporting or informal probation, is more lax. This type of probation means you do not have an officer to report to. However, you have to occasionally go to the court for check-ins, and you still need to be careful to avoid committing other crimes.
There are many situations where going on probation can help you avoid a longer prison sentence. However, it does come with fairly strict guidelines. If you are facing legal charges and hope to get off with just probation, you need to understand the rules and be confident you can follow them. It’s a good idea to speak with your Morristown criminal defense lawyer and see how probation really works. Gregg Wisotsky is here to help with all your questions about criminal charges. To learn more about our services, fill out our contact form or call us at 973-898-0161.